Two years after Exposure, Damian Valles returns to VoxxoV Records with Strand. The new cover (a painting by James Whistler) may be a bit brighter than the last, but the music is just as dark. If anything, it’s gone from bleak to dangerous. We’re not the first to notice the industrial influence, but it’s all over this set, beginning with the very first note, a muted metallic thunk. After this, Valles introduces burgeoning electronics and a creeping sense of dread. If Exposure was music for the Arctic, then Strand is music for the abattoir.
There’s a thin line between dark ambience and drone (we’re going with the latter here), but there’s also a thin line between threatening and alluring. Threatening pushes a person away (“Let’s listen to something else”), while alluring draws one in (“What’s that strange noise? I must find out!”). In horror films, alluring is a bad choice; in music, it’s a good one. Strand creeps up on the listener like a specter. Even a short track such as “Stem” serves its purpose, offering unfamiliar sounds that are difficult to dissect without repetition.
The album grows overt with “Wrought”, introducing tribal drums that imply a ceremonial sacrifice, revisited in slower fashion on “Cause of Motion”. But the subtler tracks work the best. As Hitchcock fans know, more can be done through implication than splatter. A steady drumbeat ceases to be a surprise after the initial pattern is established. Better the “what’s coming next?” mysteries of the all-electronic “Refine Motor”, or the non-linearity of the go-to track, “Shift Work”. In this piece, the primary percussion seems to be a series of hanging metal poles and gongs, and there’s no predicting when they will be hit. Add dangling chains and a tolling bell to the equation, and the influences of the early industrial era ~ both historical and musical – are cemented. “Shift Work” is the antithesis of Björk’s Cvalda, a song that celebrates the joy of mechanical sounds; Valles focuses instead on the soullessness of the machine. We’d love to hear Valles head more in this direction: beyond dark ambience and drone into pure experimentalism. Either way, a dark future awaits. (Richard Allen)